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Failed Day

By: Adrienne DayIt was going to be the festival of the summer, with Radiohead,Beastie Boys, and Beck ready to rock an idyllic field on LongIsland. How did it become a million-dollar washout?

By the time Radiohead launched into “Paranoid Android” at thesoggy, problem-plagued Field Day Music Festival in June, Thom Yorke’s “Rain down on me” refrain was filled with bitter irony. It was as if he were venting his wrath at a staunchly non-rocking God-echoing the anger of fans who’d paid $93 a pop to sneeze through what was originally billed as alternative rock’s weekend in the sun.

Field Day 2003 was conceived as a two-day outdoor be-in among the pine trees of an eastern Long Island, New York, park (formerly a Grumman Aircraft site). Featuring multiple stages, activists’ tables, and art installations, it was a homegrown answer to massive European gatherings like Glastonbury and an East Coast version of Southern California’s Coachella fest. When executive producer Andrew Dreskin first filed for a permit in March, it seemed like a mere formality. Many other large-scale events-such as the Suffolk County Fair-are held regularly on the same site. Radiohead, Beck, Beastie Boys, N.E.R.D, the Roots, Blur, Interpol, and Le Tigre, among others, had been booked, and more than 50,000 fans were expected to roll through the town of Riverhead each day. But just 48 hours before show time, local officials, citing security and traffic concerns, pulled the plug.

Field Day organizers scrambled for a new site, settling for a one-day show with half the scheduled acts at New Jersey’s less than bucolic Giants Stadium. Twenty thousand fans endured a chilly downpour, huddled for warmth on the dangerously slick stadium floor, and waded through ankle-deep puddles in the parking lot to check out second-stage acts. Liz Phair shivered in a micromini. Skittish Elliott Smith seemed as if he might melt. Beth Orton did an a cappella version of “Singin’ in the Rain.” While watching Blur’s set, Beck was accidentally slammed in the ribs by a stagehand and taken to the hospital. No umbrellas were allowed inside the facility, and the price for rain slickers increased throughout the day-free in the morning, eight bills by nightfall.

What derailed Field Day? Why did the county raise objections on May 22, a full three months after organizers made their first permit request? According to a June 16 article in Newsday, media behemoth Clear Channel Communications-which controls most of the New York area’s major concert venues-exacted pressure on local officials to block the event. Riverhead Town Supervisor Bob Kozakiewicz claims that soon after he signed a deal with Field Day’s Dreskin, local promoter and Clear Channel Entertainment co-president Ron Delsener tried to strike a long-term agreement that would have made Clear Channel the sole producer of events at the Riverhead site.

“I’ve seen letters written by Ron Delsener to various Suffolk County executives and to the Riverhead town supervisor,” says Dreskin. “I know Delsener placed calls to [New York] Governor [George] Pataki.” Clear Channel, which has been under investigation by Congress for anticompetitive practices relating to its radio ownership and concert promotion, “absolutely blocked the festival,” says one label executive. “It doesn’t matter whether or not you have the engine, because they own the wheels and the chassis. You’re not going anyplace without them.” Clear Channel declined to comment. Although Dreskin won’t cite an exact figure, it’s rumored that Field Day lost up to $4 million.

Nonetheless, the anticlimactic 12-hour concert didn’t squelch attendees’ resolve. Some showed up wearing sardonic “Failed Day” T-shirts, and there were even some moments of genuine musical transcendence. Southern-rock quartet My Morning Jacket almost parted the clouds with their steely twang, while Bright Eyes’ hangdog heartthrob Conor Oberst played diary-rock Dylan. The Beastie Boys’ -greatest-hits set was charming, if a little rusty, and Radiohead’s stunning two-hour performance capped the day with passionate dissent.

Blur’s Damon Albarn even gave Field Day a qualified thumbs-up. “Our first time at Glastonbury, there were 70,000 people in three and a half feet of mud,” he says. “This is nothing.” An optimistic Dreskin added: “It’s highly likely there will be Field Day 2004. We’ll live to fight another day.”